“He’s like, ‘All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.’”
Drake’s character on “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” Jimmy Brooks, was wheelchair-bound for several seasons on the series — and, allegedly, nearly quit the show because of it.
As revealed in The A.V. Club’s oral history of “Degrassi” — which was published on the 20th anniversary of the premiere on Thursday — writer-producer James Hurst said Drake had reservations about Jimmy remaining in a wheelchair after the then-up and coming hip hop star was allegedly made fun of by his “friends in the rap game.”
During a two-part episode in Season 4 of the Canadian teen drama, Drake’s character became paralyzed after being shot in the back during a school shooting. According to Hurst, Drake — who was then known by his given name, Aubrey Graham, — almost left the show ahead of Season 6 because he was still in the chair.
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“There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey,” Hurst recalled. “It was an odd letter that said, ‘Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair.’
He continued, “I said, ‘Get him down here.’ He came in and was like, ‘What letter? I don’t know about that.’ I said, ‘All right, I understand. But how do you feel about the wheelchair?’ He’s like, ‘All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.’ And I said, ‘Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you’re in a wheelchair.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’”
Hurst said Drake was “so nice and apologetic about everything” and “instantly backed down.”
“I was very passionate about it,” he explained. “And I said, ‘Aubrey, there’s some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who’s completely ignored, who’s never on television, never gets represented.’ I need you to represent this person. You’re the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair.”
Jimmy remained in a wheelchair for most of his time on the series after that.
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Meanwhile, the Grammy winner’s co-stars explained that it initially wasn’t easy for Drake having his character suddenly being in a wheelchair after the shooting.
“I think [Aubrey] struggled, just physically with having to all of a sudden do everything confined to a chair,” said Lauren Collins, who played Paige in the series. “That was really hard for him. I definitely have a few memories of him toppling the chair over and falling off of makeshift ramps that they’d constructed for him.”
Shane Kippel, who starred as Skinner, added, “[There’s] the apprehension of having your character confined to a wheelchair, or even not really feeling like it’s right to be portraying someone who is confined to a wheelchair if you’re fully abled yourself. But that pertains to [Aubrey] and how he felt with that.”
In Season 7, Jimmy underwent stem cell surgery and is seen walking on crutches as he graduates high school in the Season 7 finale. Drake went on to make one final appearance as Jimmy, starring in an episode in Season 8.
As many now know, the “Way 2 Sexy” rapper’s time in a wheelchair on the show become a popular viral meme, titled, “Wheelchair Jimmy.”